« PreviousContinue »
A LADY'S CRUISE
LETTER TO ENGLAND ANNOUNCING START FROM FIJI
Nasova, Fiji, 5th Stpt. 1877.
Mr Dear Eisa,—I have only time for a line, to enclose a packet of seed of a lovely shrub which bears clusters of golden bells. Also to tell you that I am just starting for a cruise in a French manof-war, the Seignelay, commanded by Captain Aube, who is taking Monseigneur Elloi, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Samoa, a round of his diocese. Both are exceedingly pleasant, and have made themselves much liked here. The officers are a particularly gentlemanlike set. Judge of my amazement (accustomed to the rigid regulations of the English navy), when these, as one man, echoed an invitation given to me by the commander, to go for a cruise over half the South Seas, where they purpose touching at many isles, which I could by no possibility have any other chance of seeing. Several of these most kind friends had placed their cabins at the disposal of the captain, that he might offer me whichever he considered most suitable. For the first day or two after this invitation was made, we all treated it as a pleasant joke, never
imagining that it could be quite in earnest; but when at length we all became convinced that it really was so, we agreed that there really could be no reason for refusing so rare a chance of an expedition, which will be to mo most delightful.
So I am actually to embark this afternoon, Lady Gordon and dear littlo sailor Jack, and Captain Knollys, accompanying me on board, to see mo fairly started.
This evening we sail for the Friendly Isles (Tonga), and thence proceed to the Navigator's Isles (Samoa), where there have been serious disturbances, and where my friend Mrs Liardet, wife of the British Consul, has for some time had about thirty chiefs living in sanctuary in her house. I have long promised to visit her, should an opportunity arise, so this is an admirable one. I shall probably take a return passage thence in a German ship, and rejoin Lady Gordon at Loma Loma, a point in this group, about one hundred miles from here.
My French friends urge my going on to Tahiti, the loveliest isle in the South Seas; but the utter uncertainty of how to get back thence, either here or to Tasmania, where Lady Gordon hopes to spend Christmas, makes me hesitate. If I could reach the Sandwich Isles, I should then be on the direct line of the Pacific mailsteamers; but Tahiti is utterly out of the world, and till the Seignelay arrives there, she will not receive her further orders, and may perhaps be sent to Valparaiso, which has no attractions for me. So my line of march is at present somewhat undecided. I think I shall almost certainly return here from Samoa; but as B. long ago said, of my wandering propensities, that I was just like a knotless thread, I may perhaps slip through, and you may hear of my vanishing into space!
This place is looking lovely. It has improved wonderfully in these two years, and has become so very homelike and pleasant, that I quite grudge leaving it, with even the vague feeling of uncertainty which attaches to any long journey; and though we all expect to return here, after a winter in Tasmania, still, so many contingencies may arise, that one always feels a home in the colonies to be a very insecure tenure.
ON BOARD LE SEIGNELAY. 3
Now I must finish my packing, which requires a good deal of consideration in case it should turn out that my locomotive demon urges me onward, and that I do visit the Hawaiian Isles, and then Tasmania, ere returning here.
I wish you could see my room here, now. It really is a museum —the walls covered with trophies of all the strange Fijian things I have collected during the last two years. I have just finished a series of about sixty studies of Fijian pottery, representing a hundred and fifty pieces, all different, and made without any wheel, by the wives of the poor fishermen. Some of the forms are most artistic, and the colour is very rich No time for more. I will write next from Tonga.
LIFE IN A FRENCH MAN-OF-WAR—CONVENT-LIFE IN TONGA—EARLY
On Board Le Seionelay, Off ToNOATABtj,
Dear Lady Gordon,—I may as well begin a letter at once, in case of a chance of posting it by some stray ship, but as yet there is none even on the horizon.
Is it possible that it was only last Wednesday afternoon when you and Jack left me on board the Seignelay to try an entirely new experiment in ship-life—only three days since we ate our first meringues in that charming little dining-room, of which I now fed such a thoroughly old inhabitant 1 I can scarcely believe it.
Still more wonderful, is it scarcely a fortnight since I first met the amethystine bishop, and this extraordinarily kind captain, who both seem like real old friends, as do, indeed, all the people on board, from the officers and quartermasters, down to Antoine, the Italian maitre d'hotel, who takes me under his especial charge, and is as careful as any old nurse? I know that if I were sick ho would insist on coming to the rescue, but as yet he has not had the smallest chance of showing me such attentions; for though we had one really rough day, the ship is so very large and steady, that you scarcely perceive any motion. You did not half see her; she really is a noble vessel, and all her machinery is so beautifully kept—such a display of polished brass and steel—brighter than on most English men-of-war. Of course I have been duly lionised over every corner of her, and I think the most novel sight of all, is serving out rations, and seeing wine pumped up from huge vats, to fill the small barrels, each of which represents eight men's daily allowance. What immense supplies must be laid in when such a ship starts on a long cruise! They are sufficiently startling on board such vessels as the Messageries Maritimes, where every soul on board drinks vin ordinaire at every meal, and where there is daily consumption of about two hundred bottles, and the store laid in at Marseilles has to suffice for the voyage to Yokohama, and back to Marseilles.
The little cabin assigned to me is charming—so full of natty contrivances to make the most of space, and all so pretty. I believe that several of our kind friends on board have contributed to make it so. One lent a beautifully carved mirror, another a pin-cushion of pale-blue silk and lace. Fixed to the wall are fascinating flower-vases of black Chilian pottery, brought from Lima, and most delicate little kava bowls from the Wallis Isles, now utilised to hold soap, sponge, and matches. I find a whole chest of drawers empty, and various shelves, which I know can only have been cleared at great inconvenience. A small bookcase contains a very nice selection of French and English books—for my especial host, M. de Gironde, has travelled a good deal in England and in Scotland, and reads English well, as do several of the others. Having so generously given me his cabin, he has taken up his abode in the chart-room on the bridge, and declares he likes it far better; that it is much cooler, and that he never was so comfortable, &c. In short (in common with all the others), he tries to make me really feel as if I were conferring a huge obligaNAVAL HOSPITALITY. 5
tion on the whole party by having come. Never were there such hospitable people. I have had a good deal of spoiling in the course of my life, but I never had it in such perfection as now. Every creature on board is so cordial, that it would be quite impossible not to feel so in return. I think my French is improving! I can now distinguish the Bretons from the Provencals, and both from the Parisians.
The officers are a pleasant, well-informed set, who have travelled with their eyes open, and their relations with their fine old captain are those of cordial sons with a father. It would be difficult for any one accustomed to the rigid stiffness of the British navy to understand such a condition. Even the frank kindliness with which sub-officers and men are addressed, sounds to me as unusual as it is pleasant. Life on this ship seems that of a happy family, with the filial and paternal affections unusually well developed, and M. Aube is generally the centre of a cheery group, chatting unreservedly on whatever topic may arise.
At least two of the officers are daily invited to breakfast, and two others to dinner in the captain's little cabin, all coming in their turn. And six or eight generally come in to evening tea, a ceremony which, I suspect, has been instituted specially out of deference to my supposed English habits. Besides the bishop and myself, M. Pinart is also the captain's guest, and I find him pleasant and very ready to impart his information, which, as you know, is considerable, on all scientific matters. The others have little jokes at his expense, and declare that he is more of a Yankee than a Frenchman. I can only say the combination is good.
The feeding is excellent, beginning with early chocolate. Breakfast is at 9 o'clock, and ends with coffee and liqueurs, especially most delicious Chartreuse, which some of us in an irreverent whisper call "La meilleure ceuvre des moines." Dinner, with similar ending, is at 5 o'clock, and tea at 8. Antoine has orders to give me luncheon at 1, with due respect to English habits; but I find this quite superfluous; so that ceremony falls through. By the by, tell A. that his champagne-cup produced quite a sensation. It was generally set down as being de Vhydromd, and the greatest